Cape Town - South Africa's two special envoys to the Middle East, Aziz Pahad and Zola Skweyiya, on Thursday called for an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza, before they headed to Qatar to meet Hamas.
“South Africa is calling on the protagonists to the conflict to conclude an immediate and unconditional ceasefire that will allow the people of Gaza to return to their homes and rebuild their shattered lives,” Skweyiya told journalists at Parliament.
Pahad and Skweyiya briefed President Jacob Zuma after meeting Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah and foreign minister Raid Malki, and Israeli deputy foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
Pahad termed the talks “extensive”, saying they laid the ground for further talks with Israel and Palestine in the near future. The pair briefly returned to South Africa to consult Zuma before embarking on a fact-finding mission to Egypt, Qatar, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
“The first visit is a stepping stone to a second visit and we will have to visit other countries in the region,” he said.
“Our task is to establish which of the neighbouring countries are assisting the process or adding to the conflict escalating.”
Asked about local pressure on the government to expel Israel's ambassador to South Africa, Pahad said this would be counter productive and there had been no pressure from the Palestinian authorities to do so.
“This is a time when you need greater interaction with all the parties to ensure that we achieve a long-lasting solution.
“I must report that nobody from the Palestinians called on us to break relations or recall our ambassador, in fact they called on us to intensify our interaction given the gravity of the situation.
“It would be better to intensify the quality of our interaction... we cannot allow what is going on to continue much more.”
Pahad said the South African delegation had openly expressed its concern over the civilian death toll in Gaza and would continue to support pronouncements from the United Nations condemning it in the strongest terms.
He was referring to UN relief and works agency commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl's statement calling the shelling of a school in Gaza on Wednesday “a source of universal shame”.
“We have expressed our concerns. You cannot sustain such assaults in one of the most highly densely populated pieces of land in the world,” Pahad said.
Asked why they did not meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Skweyiya said they were told he was busy.
“They were very polite and very clear that Mr Netanyahu was busy with some other duties and that he had sent a deputy minister to meet us. From what we hear, and we listened, it was said that the deputy minister had the ear of the prime minister.”
Pahad said the South African envoys saw their role as making a contribution to dialogue and sharing the country's own experience in negotiating an end to conflict.
“Ours is to share our own experiences, give our own experience of what the serious crisis is and make our contribution.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest conflict in history so I don't expect that we can solve that overnight.”